Locust outbreaks: Could farmers turn pests to profit?

While many farmers in the Northern and Eastern Cape feel helpless in the face of locust outbreaks, other farmers and scientists believe that there is an untapped opportunity in these insect swarms that threaten vast areas of grazing and crops.

According to Lowell Scarr, an insect farmer in the Eastern Cape, farmers could use a locust outbreak to their advantage. Farmers in other parts of the world are already doing this, finding ways of collecting the insects and turning them into a useful source of protein.

He explains that locusts are in fact a rich protein source and can therefore be used as feed. “Although it can be a difficult task to grow them, with enough quantity they can be turned into sustainable, high-protein animal fodder and fertiliser,” Scarr says.

Economist and insect farmer Lowell Scarr. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

He points out that this is already being practiced in other parts of the world.

Farmers in Kenya who have been battling some of the worst locust plagues in decades have started to turn the pests into profit. Farmers harvest the insects and mill them, turning them into protein-rich animal feed and organic fertiliser for farms.

“It is a bit of a challenge to collect them. But if one can grow them, they can be a solution rather than being a burden,” Scarr said.

Xolela Mzondi, agricultural research technician from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), says if locusts are captured without the use of chemicals their biological value is high. “They have a good potential for use in fish, poultry, and even dairy feed.”

The Northern Cape, Free State, and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa are the areas most affected by locusts. The most common is the brown locust which eats grass but will consume any green plants. According to Mzondi locust eggs can survive for several years in the soil, with the embryos developing at different rates in response to environmental conditions.

Mzondi says the local insect industry is definitely growing.

“However, locust farming in South Africa hasn’t been widely explored, as opposed to in many parts of Asia. I supposed you can use them as feed. However, they are currently not favored in the South African market [unlike] the black soldier flies,” he says Mzondi.

ALSO READ: Another helping of insect protein? Yes please!

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